What Are Charter Schools – And Are They Right for Your Family?

Recently, many in our country celebrated National Charter School Week. Numerous events marked the occasion and the White House even issued a proclamation to help raise awareness. But what exactly is a charter school?

For starters, charter schools are public schools. This is worth noting because many confuse charter schools with private schools. They are not. They are, however, public schools that operate with greater freedom and flexibility than their traditional public school counterparts.

Over nearly three decades, charter schools emerged as a response to parental dissatisfaction with lackluster academic progress in the public school system. Key policy makers pushed for the creation of these new types of schools that are experimenting with innovative ways to provide students with a high-quality education. In practical terms, this may mean wearing uniforms or having longer school hours.

And, as it turns out, Latino families are among those choosing to enroll their children in charter schools. In fact, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than 12 million Latino students currently are enrolled in a charter school, accounting for about 30 percent of all national charter school enrollment.

Why? Myriad reasons apply, but among the biggest is that many Latino families are not well served by traditional public schools. And far too many Latino families have but one choice when it comes to deciding where to send their children to school. Unlike affluent families that can move to a different neighborhood or pay for private education, the vast majority of Latino families have the local, traditional public school as their only option.

Thankfully, politicians at both the state and federal levels are pushing to empower Latino families with greater school choice, including allowing more Latino families to enroll their children in a charter school. Among the biggest supporters are President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has spent millions of her own dollars to help mainly minority families, including an immigrant mother from Peru, to have access to a high quality education.

Unfortunately, some oppose greater educational choice. Powerful interest groups are resisting change. Instead of encouraging Latino families to investigate and select charter schools, they urge maintaining the status quo.

The best way to push for increased educational freedom is for our Latino community to remain informed about our educational system. This way, it will be easier to spot misleading and erroneous information from detractors.

Ultimately, support for charter schools is all about expanding opportunity. We know that the vast majority of the Latino population came to this country to contribute to it with our hard work, talent and determination. We are eager to write our personal stories of success and we know that education is the great equalizer.

As President Donald Trump so eloquently put it when declaring National Charter Schools Week recently, “Education provides the staircase out of poverty, toward a fulfilling life of work and service, and a true shot at the American Dream.”

He could not have said it better. Now it is time to better inform our community, and for all of our public elected officials to get the message.

Here are some good resources to learn more about charter schools and school choice:

Israel Ortega is a writer and a Think Freely Latino Advisory Board member and contributor. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.

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